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Will Power finds trouble at Grand Prix

ST. PETERSBURG — Will Power ran his fingers through his ruffled hair as he surveyed his scarred No. 12 Chevy and listened to the apology of the one who wrecked it.

The four-time pole sitter and 2010 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner led the first 26 laps and opened up an early 11-second lead before his Team Penske car ran into trouble.

Power was running in third near the end of a caution period with 30 laps left when he and the leaders slowed down. JR Hildebrand didn't.

"It was totally my fault," said Hildebrand, who was not on the lead lap, "and I feel super sorry for Will and Team Penske."

Hildebrand said he glanced down at his control panel and didn't see the leaders check up. He kept going, and his No. 4 Panther Racing Chevy drove over the right side of Power and smacked the outside wall near Turn 10.

The wreck slashed Power's right-rear tire and knocked off his mirror, forcing him to pit and drop to the end of the lead lap. Then with six laps to go, the three-time IndyCar Series runnerup hit the tires in Turn 4. Power finished 16th — his worst result in six runs in St. Petersburg.

"It's racing," Power said. "If nothing ever happened in racing, man, it'd be boring — and we'd probably win a lot more races."

Sunday was also unkind to two other championship contenders.

Four-time series champion and 2011 race winner Dario Franchitti tried to make up ground early with his struggling Honda but exited the pits too quickly with cold tires. His Chip Ganassi Racing machine smacked into the outside wall in Turn 3, ending his day after 18 laps.

Franchitti finished last in the 25-car field, which tied the worst result of his series career.

"We've really struggled with the Target car this weekend ..." Franchitti said. "We're a long, long way from where we need to be."

So was defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. The Fort Lauderdale resident's throttle got stuck on Lap 64, leading to a collision with Graham Rahal. A gearbox problem parked his No. 1 Chevy in 18th place with 79 laps left.

Mechanical breakdowns kept two Grand Prix dark horses from capitalizing on the usual suspects' struggles.

Oriol Servia took advantage of a different pit strategy to inherit the lead on Lap 46, and he staved off Power, Helio Castroneves and eventual winner James Hinchcliffe to hold onto first place for the first time since the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

"It really gave me hopes," Servia said.

But when he pitted on Lap 61, his No. 22 Chevy stalled. He finished 17th.

St. Petersburg resident Tristan Vautier showed promise in his series debut. The rookie ran as high as fourth and never fell out of the top seven until his exhaust failed after 69 laps, dropping him to a 21st-place finish.

"It's just part of racing," Vautier said.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Will Power finds trouble at Grand Prix 03/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 9:21pm]
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